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How to hire top IT talent quickly (and scientifically)

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/gpointstudio)

In 2004, Google put up billboards with an obscure math problem to attract talented programmers. If you solved the problem, eventually you’d be permitted to submit your resume.

For years in Silicon Valley, the prevailing mentality was that you should hire the smartest programmers you can find, period. IQ trumped all, and these billboards were Google’s cheeky way to attract smart people.

But by valuing one characteristic so highly, you might also be opening the door to people who are egotistical and arrogant – potentially hurting company culture, innovation, and team morale in the process.

The reality is that if you want to find top-notch technical talent –  or any type of talent –   it is not enough to hire the smartest person in the room (or on the highway). Unless you are hiring a theoretical physicist to work in a windowless office independently solving the mysteries of time and space, you need to efficiently and accurately identify candidates who can work well with others as part of a team, will be reliable and can handle the tasks you throw at them.

In short, you need the right tools and approach to ensure well-rounded assessments of your candidates, their various characteristics, preferences, and abilities. The good news is that the science of modern predictive hiring is extremely proven when it comes to identifying candidates who can succeed whatever the role-specific demands may be. The single best predictor of new hire success is a job-relevant, validated assessment. This type of test can be extremely good at measuring critical candidate capabilities so you can decide whom to hire quickly, validly, and fairly.

What characteristics should you be looking for in your next IT hire? For one, we’ll leave using billboards with obscure math problems as a recruiting method in the past. Volumes of research have shown that the characteristics most relevant to IT employees’ success are:

  • Team orientation
  • Creativity
  • Passion
  • Problem-solving skills

In a recent validation study for IT roles at a large insurance provider, Modern Hire found that the biggest predictors of success were soft skills like being improvement-minded, creativeness, decisiveness to solve key issues, and helpfulness.

You may be asking yourself – what about domain expertise? Yes, hard IT skills like ripping off Python code to train a model or cranking out a clutch Java fix are important too, but those are the easiest ones to measure with a range of specific coding tests. Plus, the reality is that problem-solving skills and creativity are often more important than remembering every detail of programming languages and techniques that are rapidly evolving and can be easily Googled. Do you really need a walking encyclopedia of syntactic esoterica or a creative problem solver who knows the basics and can figure out what needs to be figured out? I obviously do not know your specific requirements, but I submit to you that the answer is most likely the latter.

Now you might wonder, how is it possible to assess all of this while simultaneously competing to win the top IT talent you need? The good news is that modern hiring technology is well equipped to:

  • Shepherd candidates through your process with easy communication tools like chat functionality and automatic scheduling
  • Measure key job-related competencies accurately and fairly
  • Allow your candidates to interact with you and your hiring teams in a safe and virtual interview format
  • Give your valued candidates a realistic preview of your job
  • Provide highly predictive scoring that will help you make the best decision about whom to hire

In addition, this can all happen extremely quickly with an online, automated solution. In fact, as AI becomes more deeply embedded in decision-making tools, it is increasingly possible to automatically score unstructured interview responses – written or spoken – against job-related competencies. Essentially, a combination of deep learning and natural language processing is now able to score what a human being says, for meaning. That’s right – your computer can now understand what your words mean (at least to some extent).

While AI is a massively exciting technological development and adds much efficiency and effectiveness to the hiring process, organizations should be cautious of uses of AI that are poorly understood and have the potential to cause unforeseen bias. One example of this is the automatic scoring of video, which is often referred to as a type of facial recognition. While it is true that deep learning can extract significant predictive information from video, it is also the case that 1) the scored indices will be difficult to make theoretical sense of, which means it will be hard to prove job-relatedness, and 2) it is likely that there is bias hidden in those scores. Until AI can parse just the fair, predictive bits from videos, using AI to score them in hiring is risky business. And the same goes for scoring prosody, which is the pattern of stress and intonation in a speaker’s audio track. Yes, you can pull predictive information out of what a person sounds like, but it is likely to be biased by the person’s dialect and diction.

AI has revolutionized many domains, including hiring. It is now straightforward to implement systems that make use of cutting-edge technology, are extremely fast, and provide informative, engaging candidate experiences for your IT talent pool. Just skip the math problem billboards and you are practically assured of success.

Eric Sydell, Ph.D., EVP of Innovation, Modern Hire

Eric Sydell is the EVP of innovation at Modern Hire, where he oversees all research and product innovation initiatives, including the data science-focused Labs team. He is passionate about applying machine learning, and deep learning in particular, to candidate data to match candidates with career opportunities more effectively. Eric is highly motivated to show the power of these new AI-based technologies and guide them to ensure they benefit individuals as well as organizations. Eric previously served as EVP, Innovation at Shaker International, of which he was also a founder. He was also a consultant at CEB/SHL.